As outlined in an earlier post, in the coming weeks I will be dedicating an entry to each story in the new anthology Swords v Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington and published by Stone Skin Press. My reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.
Daughter of the Drifting by Jason Heller
One of the key tropes of HP Lovecraft’s ‘mythos’ fiction is how deeply ancient and unreachable the truths of the universe are, and that even the prospect of contemplating them leads one into a destructive spiral of madness it is impossible to recover from.
Though Lovecraft spends plenty of time suggesting the historical scope of the Great Old Ones — it’s no accident that a lot of his stories feature excavation or historical exegesis as their inciting incident — and on making sure we realise just how thoroughly devastating even gazing upon these creatures can be for one’s psyche, that’s often where it all stops.
We learn nothing of the biological workings of the Great Old Ones — save for their ‘alien’ make-up — and we certainly know nothing of their political system. Lovecraft never quite felt like peering too deeply behind that curtain, and the genuine paranoia over the full implications of this hidden parallel universe that he feels is arguably one of the strongest strands in his fiction.
Heller, on the other hand, takes this hitherto unexplored challenge head-on, and plunges us deep into the unpleasant and cruel logic of an entirely non-human world. But instead of the paralyzing reveries that this world suggests in Lovecraft’s fiction, Heller creates a schema in which battle and ritualistic murder is the order of the day.
Heller takes full advantage of the anthology’s ‘sword’ brief, endowing the blade wielded by the hard-bitten protagonist with the cultural cred of an Excalibur. Only this time, the blade isn’t a cue for feudal solidarity and benevolent justice, but an instrument that further propagates a vicious circle of violent domination. This set-up reminded me of the recent novel by Alistair Rennie, Bleakwarrior, which I will be reviewing soon and which also posits a world of uber-humans whose sole purpose is to vanquish each other.
Heller’s choice to go for a first-person narration, as well as his poetic handling of this strange universe, make the whole experience immersive as well as alienating. Like the previous story we considered, this is another work of bona-fide weird fiction, albeit one that exploits a markedly different strand to this eclectic genre.